There are two kinds of tintypes, wet-plate and dry-plate.
- For wet-plate photography, a collodion emulsion mixture is poured on the metal plate just before it’s exposed in the camera. The plate is still wet when the exposure is created.
- The dry-plate process, a modern innovation to the tintype process, uses a gelatin photographic emulsion instead of a liquid and can be applied further in advance.
All tintypes are unlike modern digital photography in that they require specialized equipment, chemicals, and certain physical conditions. A tintype camera is a large-format camera with a plate holder, lens, and tripod. “The plates themselves can be whatever size you want. You can go as big as 24 by 30 inches, or you can do 2 inches or 35 millimeters,” says photographer David Clifford.
Including the darkroom supplies, chemicals, plates, and safety gear, the materials themselves can cost between $2,000 and $5,000. You’ll need silver nitrate powder, collodion, developer, fixer, and varnishing mixtures. If you’re new to the process, you can find starter kits that package up most of the supplies you’ll need.
You also need to consider the physical conditions of your photoshoot. “It’s an old process. The chemicals should be at about 68 degrees or room temperature. Yesterday I was shooting outside, and it was 38 degrees. It was freezing and we got two tintypes made, and then we got nothing because it was just way too cold,” says Clifford.